How Much is Enough For Retirement?

None of us knows how long we will live. But you can be sure that the longer you live the more money you will need – unless – you’re willing to reduce your lifestyle in retirement. According to IRS issued life expectancy tables, the life expectancy for a 25 year old is 83.2, for a 50 year old 84.2 and for a 75 year old it’s 88.4.

The older you get the more years you are expected to live. We can thank medical science and our healthier lifestyles for this increased longevity. In 1900, the average life expectancy was 47 years old!

Some of you reading this post may be so far away from retirement that you don’t think about it. You’re more concerned with building your career and trying to make enough money to do the things you want to do now. Others may be realizing that it’s time to get serious about having a plan. Then there are those who are either near retirement or retired and know that the nest-egg has to last.

The bottom line is: once you stop earning income you will start withdrawing from your savings to support your lifestyle. These savings (plus social security and if you are lucky, a pension) will be your new “salary.”  If you retire at age 65, your savings will need to last for 20-30 years or more.

How can you be sure that you will have enough?

Fortunately, an incredible amount of research has gone into determining how much a person can withdraw each year from their savings and still have enough to last to their life expectancy. The most widely accepted solution is the 4% withdrawal rate formula. This is how you calculate it:  Total value of savings at retirement x 4% =your  first year withdrawal amount.  Each year thereafter increase this amount by the rate of inflation (assume 3%).

The 4% Withdrawal Rate Formula Illustrated:

Nancy is 65 and about to retire. She has saved $1,000,000 that she has invested in stock funds (60%) and bond funds (40%). 4% of $1,000,000 is $40,000. This is the amount that Nancy can safely withdraw from her nest-egg in the first year to start her withdrawal program. She also is entitled to $21,600 in Social Security benefits. Nancy will need to develop a lifestyle (all expenses plus taxes) around this amount of $61,600 a year to protect against running out of money. In each year thereafter, Nancy can increase this amount by the rate of inflation (let’s assume 3%), so in the 2nd year she can withdraw $41,200 and in the third year $42,436 and so on.

Unfortunately, Nancy’s  pre-retirement lifestyle cost $75,000 a year.  She delayed doing any kind of retirement planning and in result, will have to make some sacrifices or move to a less costly area to preserve her capital.

Sarah and Mike
Sarah and Mike are both 45 years old and plan to retire at age 66. They hired a financial planner to help them determine how much they need to save in order to retire and maintain their current $125,000 a year  lifestyle.  They have saved $750,000  so far which is invested in  80 % stock funds and 20 % bond funds. They are expecting a total of $45,200 in social security benefits a year between the two of them. They are saving $12,000 a year each in their 401k’s but are not saving outside of their retirement plan.

The financial planner prepared a retirement projection (also referred to as a capital need analysis) for them and came up with the following:

Retirement Projection
Assuming a 7% average rate of return on their investments, a life expectancy of 90 years old and an average 3% inflation rate, Sarah and Mike will need to save approximately $1,600,000  more by age 66. With their current savings rate they will fall short. They need to increase their savings by $9000.00 a year to reach their goal.  Sarah and Mike plan to go back over their cash flow to see where they can cut back. Also, Mike is anticipating a big raise next year so it will get easier. They are relieved to have a plan and know what they need to do to reach their goals.

Since the longer you live the more money you will need, it pays to plan. Who would you rather be? Nancy facing some tough decisions right when she retires, or Sarah and Mike who have clarity and a road map for where they want to go.  Of course, there are going to be big bumps and little bumps along the way, but it pays to plan.

About the author

Cathy Curtis, CFP®

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